The Philalethes Society was founded on October 1, 1928, by a group of Masonic students. It was designed for Freemasons desirous of seeking and spreading Masonic light. In 1946, The Philalethes magazine was established to publish articles by and for its members. For many years it has been voted the best Masonic publication in the world.
The sole purpose of this Research Society is to act as a clearing house for Masonic knowledge. It exchanges ideas, researches problems confronting Freemasonry, and passes them along to the Masonic world.
Among the original 40 Fellows were Harold V. B. Voorhis, Rudyard Kipling, Robert I. Clegg, Louis Black, J. Hugo Tatsch, Charles S. Plumb, Harry L. Haywood, and Charles C. Hunt. Fellows of the Society have been elected from every country in the free world, proving The Philalethes Society has always been international in scope.
he philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In other words, if we don’t know where we’ve been, we can’t tell where we’re going. As a great historian noted more than two thousand years ago, there are certain types of events “that happen. and always will happen, so long as human nature remains the same” (Thucydides 3.82.2). These are the reasons why a few of us believe that history is important. So far as the Philalethes Society International is concerned, Allen Roberts has told us the story of the first sixty years in Seekers of Truth (1988) — of which copies are still available. Let me remind you of a few highlights.
The Society was founded in 1928, by six men, explicitly in order to keep free thinkers in Masonry from being muzzled by those “dressed in a little brief authority” (as Shakespeare so aptly puts it, in Measure for Measure, Act 2, Scene 2). Over the years the Society increased its profile. The first issue of the Philalethes magazine appeared in March of 1946. In February, 1956, the Society began to help sponsor a Workshop, as part of the meetings of the Allied Masonic Bodies in Washington. And that same year the first Certificate of Literature was awarded, for the best article published in the magazine. In 1980 the Workshop was replaced by the “Annual Assembly and Feast” (a memorable phrase suggested by Jerry Marsengill, and borrowed from Anderson’s Constitutions of 1738). In 1981, for the first time, a Philalethes Lecturer was named, to present a talk at the Assembly and Feast, and, appropriately, the inaugural appointment was Allen E. Roberts. In the April issue of the magazine for 1982, the column “Through Masonic Windows,” which had previously been published in the now defunct journal Altar Light, began to appear in the Philalethes. In 1986 the Workshop was revived, under the title of the Forum, but now as a sequel to the Assembly and Feast. The Society had planned to hold a Semi-Annual meeting in 1985, but this proved to be impossible, and the first one actually took place in 1986.
All these efforts raised the profile of the Society, and led to an increase in membership. In 1931 forty fellows had been proclaimed. The total numbers climbed, slowly at first, to over 300 in 1950, over 700 in 1961, over 1000 in 1963, over 1500 in 1976, and over 3000 in 1987. By then the Society was respectable enough that, as we used to put it, it had become “the oldest, largest, and most successful Masonic research body in the United States.” Over the years, a number of Brothers who had served as Grand Masters in their respective jurisdictions were persuaded to serve as Presidents of the Philalethes Society. One thinks of such notable members as William Moseley Brown, P.G.M. of Virginia (President, 1958); Robert H. Gollmar, P.G.M. of Wisconsin (President, 1967); William R. Denslow, P.G.M. of Missouri (President, 1970); William E. Yeager, P.G.M. of Pennsylvania (President, 1973); Robert V. Osborne, P.G.M. of Wisconsin, (President, 1974); Eugene S. Hopp, P.G.M. of California (President, 1976); Dwight L. Smith, P.G.M. of Indiana (President, 1979); Robert L. Dillard, P.G.M. of Texas (President, 1981); Bruce H. Hunt, P.G.M. of Missouri (President, 1983); Forrest D. Haggard, P.G.M. of Kansas (President, 1994); and Royal C. Scofield, P.G.M. of Ohio (President, 1996). A fairly impressive list! Clearly the efforts of such men were beneficial to the Society, and we must be grateful to them for their service.
Since the publication of Seekers of Truth the Society has continued to make progress. Consider the question of electronic media. In the Philalethes magazine, 36.5 (October 1983), Allen Roberts had written: “Computers are in! Everywhere we turn we’re finding them. They aren’t just for business any more…. Computer clubs are booming. Computer bulletin boards are located all over the country — and world. Has the time arrived for the Freemasons of the country to begin linking their computers, through modems, all over the country? Is it time to consider a Masonic bulletin board? …. Or should Freemasonry ignore this tremendous technological breakthrough as it has so many others?” What a far-sighted prophet! Less than nine years later, the magazine reported, in August, 1992, that a dispensation had been issued to Cornerstone Computer Chapter of the Philalethes Society, and the Chapter was granted a Charter in February, 1993. And the Society’s website (now located at the address http://freemasonry.org/psoc/) was opened at the end of June, 1995, and has been very successful. Thus, on March 25, 1999, the site had 1612 visitors — a pretty impressive total for one day.